Had to refresh my memory about Ellen’s style over the years.
Hello from the depths of 3rd year PhD land! This week has been an exciting foray into the past 20 years of lesbian media representation, from k.d. lang to Ellen through to The L Word and contemporary coverage of Kristen Stewart’s ‘gal pals’. It’s no big shock that lesbian TV and movie characters, as well as celebrities, have been ultra-feminized and heterosexualized for male viewers and that characters who challenge gender norms or show genuine same-sex desire tend to be invisible, one-time appearances, or get killed off at the end of the season. Mostly, I’d like to think this is changing. But then I was reminded that the MTV Awards kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears was back in 2003 and, more than a decade later, female celebrities are still kissing each other for ‘shock value’ as they emulate girl-on-girl porn aimed at male audiences. Although it’s true that more celebrities are identifying as fluid or just ‘anything but heterosexual’ and – as they argue – it doesn’t matter who they’re kissing, the fact that same-sex attraction and desire are still continually trivialized because they’re put on display for men (e.g. Britney kissing Rhianna in 2011) really doesn’t do anything to challenge heteronormativity.
Ok, learning time over, it’s officially the weekend! The rest of this post is just a general update because I’ve been missing-in-action in the blogosphere lately. I’ve completed the data collection phase of my PhD, including interviews with Tinder, Vine, and Instagram users during January – March, the calls for which were posted on this website. Talking with people is hands down one my favourite parts of this job, so it was just amazing of interview participants to take an hour of their time to talk about everything from hashtags to selfies. Now I’m knee-deep in data from all three of my mixed methods (interviews, platform analysis, and user content analysis), which I believe is probably a common PhD situation. I discovered MAXQDA for qualitative analysis, which I’ve added in the latest update to my ‘Tools and Resources’ tab, and I’m slogging through making sense of all the text, photos, and media articles (I swear I’m not getting paid by these guys but their software is awesome, you can even code in emoji!).
It’s also been the season for exciting announcements and opportunities! With plans to fly to the U.S. in a couple of weeks, the one that’s most on my mind right now is my upcoming PhD internship with Microsoft Research New England’s Social Media Collective. I’m super excited to be working with the SMC’s researchers on a three-month project about ‘off-label uses’ of mobile apps. Now to hunt down the best coffee places and study alcoves in Cambridge, MA…
I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off during my internship to present at the International Communication Association’s 66th Annual Conference in Fukuoka, Japan. I’ll be presenting some work-in-progress from my analysis of interviews with Instagram users, looking at how they represent their sexual identity. Warning – the presentation has a high cuteness factor because I’m also talking about representations of same-sex couples so there’s a lot of adorable couples’ selfies – d’awww. I’m also on a panel in Journalism Studies about ‘The New Gatekeepers’ of news information. I’ll be talking about Facebook and Twitter to illustrate the role that platforms play in gatekeeping news. The other panelists, who will bring different perspectives, include Elizabeth Dubois and Heather Ford – whom I met back in the day at Oxford and who continue to amaze with their cutting-edge research and methods – and C.W. Anderson who’s been great to work with!
I feel like there must be a way to reverse the saying, “When it rains, it pours” to make it something positive… Especially relevant here in Australia, “when it’s sunny, it’s heaps sunny” (I don’t think I’ll be pitching that to Hallmark anytime soon) might be appropriate since I’ve also had two papers hit the press recently! It’s funny timing, but the first of these is a paper about Tinder that I’ve worked on for two years. In fact, I gave my first PhD conference presentation about it back in 2014. It’s been through the fire: multiple conference presentations, one rejection, two re-writes, and multiple revisions but the whole process has helped to produce something super solid (or at least I think it is, would love to hear your thoughts!): “Dressing up Tinderella: Interrogating authenticity claims on the mobile dating app Tinder” in Information, Communication & Society.
The second paper is part of a special issue in Social Media + Society called “Me-diated Inter-faces” edited by Katie Warfield, Carolina Cambre, and Crystal Abidin. This batch of papers emerged from our Selfies workshop last summer (Aussie winter) at the Social Media and Society Conference in Toronto. Crystal recently explained the fun and fast-paced process of pulling this together and all the fantastic people involved (her post comes complete with #squadselfies). My paper “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer visibility through selfies: Comparing platform mediators across Ruby Rose’s Instagram and Vine presence” uses examples of Ruby Rose to illustrate how the two platforms frame her selfies and self-shot video differently. This paper was a lot of fun to write and I made a video lecture about it for Katie Warfield’s course “Images of Social Justice” at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which will be online soon! In the meantime, here’s a radio interview with a Vancouver station where I discuss how selfies can challenge normative notions of gender and sexuality.
I think that pretty much catches us up on the big things! There will surely be more PhD developments – this week’s reading about lesbian representation in the media will give me a good idea about what sorts of representations are being reproduced through social media and what’s new in terms of how same-sex attracted women represent themselves. And I’m definitely looking forward to future adventures in the US and Japan!